Above all, it should be established that there is a need for a community and it will 
offer compelling value…” – Rod Baptie, President of Baptie and Company

NeedCommunityBusinesses and organizations are always searching for ways to increase communication, sales, efficiency, and knowledge sharing. Online communities and social media can obviously be great tools for reaching and engaging targeted groups of people in new ways.

The key to creating a successful community is to identify what your organization needs, and then design a strategy to meet those needs. In this post, I’m going to highlight some of the key things to consider when deciding whether or not to build an online community.

1. Identify what is working

The first place to start is by identifying what’s working. What does your organization/business do well? Are there any processes that are especially efficient? Note any awards that have been received within the last year. Does anyone have significant credentials that can be highlighted? Has anyone received any special recognition?

An understanding of what’s working helps prioritize where to focus, and is a great reminder to only fix things that are actually “broken”.  For example, perhaps setting up an online forum would be an ideal communication platform in theory – however, your users prefer, or are used to, email. In that case, it might be better to focus on optimizing your email communication instead of using a tool your users don’t like or understand.

2. Identify what needs improvement

Now it’s time to identify the areas needing improvement. Over the years, I’ve kept a list of issues I’ve heard most often, and have separated them into 5 categories:

A) Communication

The community also facilitates access to key business intelligence by offering 
members the opportunity to meet and interact with people who possess information 
they were not previously privy to and cannot obtain anywhere else.” – Rod Baptie

  • Do you need a better way to communicate with your users?
  • Do your users need better ways to communicate with each other?
  • Would it be useful to be able to break out into groups?
  • Is there a need for private conversations?

B) Revenue

All this interaction gives sponsors highly valuable business intelligence. This 
information helps them understand the market, members’ business behaviour, frame 
sales messages, understand product enhancements and better answer the needs of 
the key community.” – Rod Baptie

  • Are you trying to better understand the needs of your users?
  • Do you want to increase your brand recognition?

C) Networking

Networked organizations incorporate a shared value approach to multiple business processes and models across their organization. The default mode of operating becomes one of sharing and openness instead of proprietary and private.” – The Community Roundtable

  • Would your users benefit by being able to more easily find others with related interests?
  • Are you trying to strengthen your relationship with prospective and/or existing users?

D) Collaboration

Private social networks present the opportunity for those with shared interests to bridge information gaps, keep in touch 24/7/365 and effectively collaborate even if geographically dispersed.” – ASI Whitepaper

  • Are you looking for a better way to share and access files?
  • Do you need a place to consolidate and/or standardize knowledge, information, or processes?
  • Would it save staff time if there was a way for users to help each other?
  • Would you benefit from having a collective calendar?
  • Do your users need/want to work remotely?

E) Development

In successful intranets, social and business functions intertwine. Information starts to move laterally. Intranet forums spring up to connect people in similar job functions or expertise areas but different locations. ” – Thoughtfarmer

  • Would your users benefit from having better access to your professional development tools or training materials?
  • Would it be useful to be able to share professional or personal prestige?

3. Identify logistics

In addition to understanding what is being done well and what needs to be improved, it’s important to consider the following logistics:

  • What kind of resources do you have (financial, time, staff, etc)?
  • Do you have someone who can manage the community? Do you know people who will help moderate?
  • Are there any deadlines to take into consideration?
  • Is privacy a concern? Is the information needing to be discussed personal or classified in any way?
  • Is there anyone who will attract prestige? Are there any writers who would be willing to contribute?
  • Do you need a certain branding/style?

4. Consider: public, private, or both?

Now, based on your needs and available resources, it’s time to decide: do you need a public social network (Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc), a private social network (GoLightly, Prolific, etc) – or both?

We’ll go over the specific benefits and challenges of implementing both public and private social networks over the next few weeks.